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15 August 2011

Who robbed the Woods –

Who robbed the Woods –
The trusting Woods?

The unsuspecting Trees

Brought out their Burrs and Mosses –
His fantasy to please –

He scanned their trinkets – curious –

He grasped – he bore away –

What will the solemn Hemlock –
What will the Fir-tree – say?
                                                   - F 56 (1859)

A variant of this poem uses the first person: “I robbed the Woods” and later “I grasped”, etc. It is no secret that Emily Dickinson (often with her younger sister Vinnie) would look for plants in the woods to bring to her own home and garden, and here the poet wonders just what the woods might think about that.
She uses some playful anthropomorphisms: the Woods are ‘trusting’, the Trees ‘unsuspecting’. Just as the homemaker sets out her decorations and art, so the Woods puts its “Burrs and Mosses” on display. They even have trinkets to enjoy. But the trusting homemaker is sometimes robbed, and here the Woods are robbed as well. We see the nature hunter fingering the special moss and such ‘trinkets’ as autumn leaves, birds nests, flowers, and ripe nuts; then taking what best suits him (or her). I like the verb ‘grasped’ here—much more possessive and vivid than ‘takes’ or ‘selects’. For it is grasping, isn’t it, to want the lovelies for ourselves.
Over this scene of petty pilferage the ‘solemn Hemlock’ watches. It does not seem pleased! And while the poet wonders what the Fir tree will say, one doubts if she will lose much sleep over it. I get the feeling Dickinson feels in cahoots with the forest. She’s teasing them here, and teasing herself.
Revising the poem from the first person to the third makes it a bit more universal and a bit more pointed. After all, it’s one thing if one Emily Dickinson takes the occasional bit of moss or plant and another if some general ‘he’ commits the robbery. Who has not been told by some ranger or mother or other authority figure when stopping to pick a flower, “What if everyone took one?”
The poem starts with an accusation underscored by the spondee “Who robbed”. The sting is softened by the two dimeter lines with the repetition of the word ‘Woods’. The last two lines soften any sense of outrage or betrayal on the part of the offended trees by the use of tripping dactyls: ‘What will the … ’.


  1. I took this poem to be an unrepentant declaration of sexuality. Especially in "I robbed the woods" where the "Bur and moss" is no doubt a penis and pubic hair, and the "trinkets" are testicles. I'm not making fun, this poem is steamy! The Fir tree is the mother, the Oak the father, what would they say if they knew of their daughter's desire? And solemn Hemlock, or Death... well... what does he say? The images of taking and grasping and boring are all about sex, and the gender lines blur when two become one.

    1. Laughing at this person's comment 3 years after they wrote it. Projecting, much?

      You've got to take into account what Dickinson's life was like and the meaning bore (past tense of bear) had at the time it was written.

    2. Oh no -- I hadn't read this 'steamy' comment before! And now it can never be unread. The poem and its trinkets is ruined for me now.

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  3. I prefer the first variant because it's personal. ED admits she is guilty but doesn't seem repentant to me. Mostly she's worried about what the trees will say. BTW, the oak tree in Variant 1 becomes a fir tree in Variant 2, of which I prefer the sound (Apologies Winston, I plagiarized. Mea culpa.)

  4. She loved plants. The poem should be taken literally. Not transformed by perverted minds.